Arrived in Chennai

Seattle-Frankfurt-MadrasChennai. Long. Delayed. But completed. I’ve checked in to my hotel (the Asiana), it’s 2:23AM local time, and I’m hitting the sack.

Comparing cameras

I just uploaded a set of photographs to provide an apples-to-apples comparison between my three digital cameras: the Kodak P850, the Casio EX-S600, and the new Panasonic DMC-TZ4. All were taken from the same spot. I was concentrating on the zoom, but looking at the non-zoomed shots it’s clear that the Panasonic has a significantly wider field of view. (The Kodak and the Casio are pretty much the same in that area.)
I think that the Panasonic with its 8.1MP and 10x zoom is the ideal compromise. No, it won’t fit in a shirt pocket, but that’s about the only limitation. ((OK, I’d prefer a dockable design, like the Kodak and Casio, but I guess I’m in the minority.))


From the Herald Trib:

Lufthansa faces a major strike by ground crews and others starting Monday after the union said that its members voted overwhelmingly to support a mass walkout.

Guess which airline I’m flying on Tuesday. And starting Monday” implies that it’s an open-ended action that may escalate.
Let’s see… I could go on ANA to Tokyo, then Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and on to Chennai… Never mind: let’s see how things unfold over the weekend.
UPDATE: Well, the latest indications are that the strike isn’t affecting the long haul schedule at all. Right now it looks as if I’ll be good to go on my originally scheduled flights.

3G battery life

Since this has been a topic of some interest at work, I thought I’d let you know how the battery life on the iPhone 3G is going. I have three email accounts set up: my personal IMAP, a .Mac MobileMe account, and my Exchange account, which is syncing email, calendar, and contacts. I turned off Bluetooth and WiFi: I use a wired headset for both phone calls and music, and I find 3G is quite fast enough for data. I turned off “push” email, and instead opted for “pull every 15 minutes” on all three accounts. I used it in this configuration all day, making several phone calls, checking email and calendar every 45-90 minutes, and reading my RSS feeds through Google Reader while riding the shuttle bus between Amazon buildings. After work, I took an hour-long walk, listening to The Maria Dimension by the Legendary Pink Dots. After all this (about 13 hours), the battery was about 60% charged.
That works for me.


Gadget day here at Chez Geoff. First, I finally got my iPhone 3G this morning. After my frustrating wait in line a week or so ago, I spent an age on the phone with AT&T Customer Service to make sure that my account was unencumbered. All clear. Then last night I checked in at the iPhone availability page at, and saw that the Bellevue was going to have inventory. According to the website, the store opened at 9:30, so I planned to arrive at 8:00. I did so, to find a dozen people in line ahead of me, and the store open for business! After an hour I reached the head of the line, got a 16GB white phone, and headed home. It took nearly half an hour to transfer the saved state of my old iPhone to the new one; while I was doing this, I was erasing all of the data on the old iPhone. (Apple finally realized that it was important to get this bit right: with the 2.0 software, erasing an 8GB iPhone takes over an hour! That’s thorough.)
Meanwhile, my new camera arrived. For the last couple of years I’ve used two cameras: a tiny Casio Exilim S600, and a bulky Kodak P850. Both are low-res by current standards (6MP and 5MP respectively), which is not necessarily a bad thing, and the Kodak does decent RAW and zooms to 12x. The trouble was the weight/bulk of the Kodak. Over the last two years I’ve relied almost exclusively on the Casio; yesterday I found myself literally “dusting off” the Kodak. And as a tourist camera, the Casio is far from ideal. Yes, it’s conveniently small, but the relatively narrow field and 3x zoom are really limiting. I think that my trip to Beijing was the final straw: I was continually frustrated while trying to capture the sweep and grandeur of the Forbidden City.
So yesterday I ordered myself a Panasonic DMC-TZ4 from Amazon, along with a spare battery and an 8GB(!) SD card. 8.1MP, 10x optical zoom, nice wide-angle Leica lens. It’s my seventh digital camera, and like all of them (except the Kodak) it cost under $300. Why not the DMC-TZ5? Partly to save a little money, and partly because I’m still not convinced that I need that many pixels. (The lower resolution means that I’ll get a couple of hundred more pictures on my SD card with the TZ4.)
Hopefully the weather in Chennai will give me the opportunity to put the camera through its paces.
UPDATE: Per dpreview, it appears that I need to update the firmware in my camera. Why am I not surprised?

Off we go, into the wild blue yonder

Another month, another trip. On Tuesday I’m off to Chennai, to visit some of the engineers from Amazon’s development centres in India. I’m flying Lufthansa through Frankfurt (my home away from home!), but fortunately I’m going to be on A330 and A340-600 planes, not their awful 747-400s. I’ll get to Chennai late on Wednesday night, recover and prepare for the meeting on Thursday, meet on Friday and Saturday, spend Sunday as a tourist, do more stuff at the office on Monday and Tuesday, and then fly home on Wednesday, leaving soon after midnight and getting back to Seattle in the evening.
This will be my first visit to Chennai, and my first to any tropical coastal city. I’ve got a full day earmarked for doing “touristy” things – beach, temples, art, that sort of thing. I gather that there are only two seasons in Chennai: summer (hot and humid) and monsoon (wet). And it’s not monsoon, so that means highs around 92F, lows around 78F, and scattered thunderstorms every day.

Turning conventional questions around

Here’s a nice piece by Christopher Hitchens in Slate, in which he muses about the implications of blind cave-dwelling creatures: species that once had eyes but have lost them. Obviously such cases are going to be difficult for creationists. People who get all misty-eyed at the improbability of the evolution of such complex organs are unlikely to be happy with nature’s obvious “easy come, easy go” approach to adaptation. And Hitchens makes another, more general point:

I do think that there is a dialectical usefulness to considering the conventional arguments in reverse, as it were. For example, to the old theistic question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" we can now counterpose the findings of professor Lawrence Krauss and others, about the foreseeable heat death of the universe, the Hubble "red shift" that shows the universe's rate of explosive expansion actually increasing, and the not-so-far-off collision of our own galaxy with Andromeda, already loomingly visible in the night sky. So, the question can and must be rephrased: "Why will our brief 'something' so soon be replaced with nothing?"

Even many atheists still cling to the idea of Progress, with a capital “P”. Of course it’s a more sophisticated, less species-centric notion of progress: the old notion that humans represented the summum seems… quaint. Nevertheless there is often an assumption that, over time, complexity and functional sophistication will increase. But… “ceteris paribus”, dear boy, “ceteris paribus”. As Hitchens reminds us, the blind salamander is evidence that such things are contingent. It’s fitness that wins, not sophistication. And sometimes there is no “win” available.

The cruellest meme

There’s a really cruel blog-meme going the rounds: list your favourite album for every year of your life. (Bonus points for those you actually own.) Where the hell do you find the data? Various sources, including, have got the number one albums for every year, but the charts only go back to 1956, and few of my favourites ever made it to number one. Wikipedia to the rescue: they have information about every year from 1950 to 2008. So in principle I could use the following procedure: scan each year’s releases in Wikipedia and pick my favourite. Then go through my top hundred or so albums ((My iTunes library has 706 albums, but only about 60% of my collection has been ripped.)), check the release date, and decide whether it beats out the current choice for that year.
I’ll be getting back to you on this, when I’ve found a couple of hours to crank through the data!

Souls shrivel under the spotlight

Here’s another straightforward, common-sense piece by Greta Christina on why she doesn’t believe in the soul.

I mean, even when we didn’t know what gravity was (which, if I understand the science correctly, we still don’t fully grasp), once we got the idea of it we understood that it was a physical phenomenon. Once we got the idea and began studying and observing it, we didn’t try to explain it by invisible spirit- demons living inside objects and pulling towards each other. We could see that it was physical objects having an effect on other physical objects, and we understood that it was a physical force.
In other words, we don’t need to completely understand a phenomenon to recognize it as a physical event, governed by laws of physical cause and effect.
And when you start looking at the “soul,” you realize that that’s exactly what it looks like, too.
Everything that we call the “soul” is affected by physical events in our bodies, and those events alter it, shape it, and eventually destroy it.

My emphasis. Or, to put it more crudely, we don’t need no stinkin’ “god of the gaps”, thank you very much!